Adults sentenced to sitting through yet another animated film with their kids look for on thing in the experience — a hint of anarchy, a taste of Looney Tunes mayhem and wit.
Kids? They’re waiting for the pooped-my-pants, teacher humiliated in his tidy whiteys gags.
“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” delivers both. An endlessly inventive and anarchic Dreamworks romp based on the Dav Pilkey children’s books, it thrives on prankster pals, over-matched adults and a hand-drawn comic book hero’s ethos.
“Never underESTIMATE the power of UNDERwear!”
Kevin Hart, who has the perfect little-guy/high-pitched voice for animation, is George, and Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) voices Harold, life-long elementary school pals who make up comic book superheroes, draw them into books, only to have the hated no-fun Principal Krupp (Ed Helms) confiscate them.
He’s the sort of martinet who revels in tormenting children, with “Hope Dies Here” stenciled on his desk. Naturally, George and Harold are always coming up with pranks to put him in his place.
One prank too many has Krupp looking at the nuclear option — busting up the pals. In desperation, George whips out his cereal box hypno-ring. And darned if Krupp doesn’t start to think he’s the superhero with the boys his trust sidekicks — Captain Underpants.
This transformation entails stripping to his skivvies, improvising a cape and singing his theme song — “Tra-la-LAAAAaaaaa!”
Suffice it to say, every time he does this — and George can snap him out of it by just snapping his fingers — it’s a hoot.
Captain Underpants is a clueless rube — “I take to the SKY! Like an OSTRICH!”
But it’s all fun and games only until that moment when the lads kind of realize the lonely lovelorn man inside Krupp, and that anarchy is no way to ensure anybody gets an education. And a guy with no real super powers has no business taking on a real threat — the super-villain (Nick Kroll) mad scientist who elbows his way into a job as science teacher.
The pacing is whiplash-quick, with every finger-snapping transition from Krupp to the Captain crackling with energy.
Adults will appreciate the one scene that breaks from the movie’s simple, flat animated style. George and Harold imagine a future where they’ve grown apart. This sequence isn’t animated. It’s performed by sock puppets in a model mall, with sticks moving the cloth arms, the works. It’s an adorable DIY moment in a sea of computer-animated children’s entertainment, and it’s as delightful as anything Dreamworks has ever put on the screen.
For kids, all that’s necessary to telling them this is a fight between Captain Underpants and Professor Poopypants. Paints a picture, doesn’t it?
That said, there are barely enough jokes to put this over, making one wonder if this “First Epic Movie” has anywhere or anywhere funny to go in the future.
But the present, the first picture, will make you grin and have your eight-and-unders in stitches. I mean, a grown man, singing in his unflattering form-fitting underwear. Come on!
MPAA Rating: for mild rude humor throughout
Cast: The voices of Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Kristen Schaal, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele
Credits: Directed by David Soren, written by Nicholas Stoller, based on the Dav Pilkey books. A Dreamworks/20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:29